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Best North American Island
Per voting in the Condé Nast Traveler Reader's Poll - 2005
If Horace Greeley's advice was "Go West, young man," then there isn't much further west one can go in Canada than Vancouver Island. This will be our new home, as we've decided to accept Rachel's nursing offer at the Nanaimo Regional Hospital. She'll be working as a surgical recovery nurse and come the end of August, we'll be packing up our home of 2 years and 2 months, making the drive back over the Canadian Rockies, loading onto a ferry and heading over to Vancouver Island.
When we moved to Edmonton, we gathered information and made informative posts on both the Province and the city. We thought we'd do the same for this move, since both the island and the city are (relatively) new to us.
For some fast facts on Vancouver Island, photos and a detailed map, read on ...
Size and Geography
In satellite photos, Vancouver Island looks like a large battleship, which has rammed into the Washington State coastline. The battleship is about 300 miles long and about 40 miles wide. It's the largest island on the western side of the Americas and is approximately 32,134 km2 (12,407 mi2). It's the world's 43rd largest island. It's slightly smaller than Taiwan and slightly larger than Sicily, Italy. The island is Canada's 11th largest island and second most populated, trailing the Island of Montreal, in Québec, which has a population density that's more than two hundred times greater than Vancouver Island's.
The Island is named for George Vancouver, a British officer who explored the region in the 1790's and was the first to circumnavigate the island.
The island is divided between a more rugged, wetter west coast and a more gently rolling, drier east coast by a mountain range named, oddly enough, the "Vancouver Island Range". These mountains extend the nearly the length of the island. Their highest peak is Golden Hinde, sitting at 2,195 meters (7,201 feet), the 18th highest peak in British Columbia. It's located in Strathcona Provincial Park and is part of an area includes the only glaciers on the island, the largest of which is called the Comox Glacier.
The mountains create a rain shadow effect for the island, providing a wide variation in precipitation. The west coast is considerably wetter than the east coast. Averages range from 665 cm (261 inches) at Henderson Lake (making it the wettest spot in North America) to 63 cm (24 inches) at the driest weather station, in the Provincial capital of Victoria.
The rugged, wet west coast shoreline is mostly an unpopulated wilderness and is, in many places, mountainous. It contains many fjords, bays and inlets. It's called "The Graveyard of the Pacific", because more than 60 ships have wrecked off its shores, in stormy or foggy weather. A hiking trail, the "West Coast Trail", parallels a portion of the southern coastline and its origin date back to the 1800's, when it was used as a life-line for shipwreck victims. It boasted a telegraph line and patrol cabins, allowing survivors to travel through the impenetrable forest. In 1973, the trail was included in the Pacific Rim National Park and is now a world-class hiking trail, which is included in Peter Potterfield's book, "Classic Hikes of the World, 23 Breathtaking Treks".
The more gently rolling, eastern shore, has been turned into some of the most productive farmland in British Columbia. Both the north and south tip of the island is predominated by rolling hills, which were shaped by the retreating glaciers, at the culmination of the last ice age.
The island is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Georgia, a narrow body of water teeming with marine life: salmon, seal, killer whales (Orca) and birds. The Strait is filled with scattered islands known as the Gulf Islands (the Canadian version of the San Juan Islands, which lie on the United States side). Both island groups are popular sailing and recreation destinations.
Passenger and automobile ferries connect Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands to the mainland. In Canada, ferry service is provided by BC Ferries and in the U.S.A., ferry service is provided by Washington State Ferries.
Climate, Flora and Fauna
Often called the "Hawaii of the North", Vancouver Island has the mildest climate in all of Canada. (After living in Edmonton for two years, California-boy Scott was very happy to discover this fact!) The climate is stabilized by the Pacific Ocean and is warmed by the "Japan Current".
One doesn't think "Greece", when thinking about Vancouver Island climate, but the Victoria area, on the southeastern tip of the Island, . This speaks volumes to the fact that the mountains, ocean currents and prevailing winds all conspire to create numerous micro-climates on the island, making it difficult to characterize the island as a whole, or even with the climate on the British Columbia mainland.
However, during summertime, it is reliably warm and sunny, across the island, with frequent ocean breezes. Temperatures reach average highs in the mid 20's °C (70-80°F) and evenings are generally cool. During winter months, average temperatures, along the coast, never dip much below 0°C (32°F). The graph shown here, contains temperature and precipitation averages, for the island as a whole.
Snowfall is variable. While the coastal areas only receive a dusting of snow, each year, which doesn't stay on the ground long, the mountains can receive many feet, which remain all season. Snow skiing is a popular wintertime activity, as there are two resorts on the island (Mt. Washington & Mt. Cain). Mt. Washington's snow-pack is often deeper than anywhere else in B.C. and is the second-busiest winter recreation destination in the Province, trailing only Whistler-Blackcomb, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. With the temperate coastal climate, it's possible to mountain-bike in the morning and then enjoy a 360-degree panorama, with ocean views, while snow skiing in the afternoon.
Vancouver island lies in a temperate rain forest biome. The south and east part of the island is characterized by Douglas-fir and western red cedar trees and is the more populated portion of the island. The northern and western portions of the island are home to conifers. These are the "big trees" often associated with the B.C. coast, including: hemlock, western red cedar, yellow cedar, Douglas-fir, Sitka spruce and western white pine. Some of the biggest trees in the world can be found here. Not surprisingly, logging has, historically, played a big role in the island's economy, along with fishing.
MacMillan Provincial Park and Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park are but two of 150 government-designated parks on the island. These two parks hold some of the largest stands of Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce in the world. MacMillan Park contains Cathedral Grove, one of the the most accessible stands of giant Douglas-fir trees in British Columbia. It's right along the Tofino Highway 4 (also called the Pacific Rim Highway) between Parksville and Port Alberni. This same road continues on to the west coast sister ports of Tofino and Ucluelet, which is the route one would take to get to the Pacific Rim National Park. These old-growth forests hold trees, some of which are over 1,000 years old and are a popular tourist attraction.
The island also supports a lush ground cover, made up of ferns, salal, mosses, lichens, berry bushes and many flowering shrubs. The warmer south, contains ecosystems that contain Arbutus trees and the more rare, Garry Oak.
Regarding wildlife, Vancouver Island is home to many of the same species as found on the mainland, with some interesting exceptions. The island doesn't have any grizzly bears, porcupines, moose or coyotes, despite the fact that these animals are common on the mainland. The island is home to Canada's only population of Roosevelt elk and also the endogenous Vancouver Island Marmot. It also has one of the densest population of cougars in North America.
The beauty and diversity of Vancouver Island extends offshore, as the surrounding waters are filled with marine life, some 3000 species of plants and animals. These include five different species of salmon, halibut, cod, herring, shrimp and prawns, which support a large commercial and sport fishing industry. Whether you're on a whale watching expedition, kayaking or just riding a ferry from the mainland, it's possible to sight a whale: killer whale (orca), gray whale, minke whales and humpback whales all swim in these waters. You might spot a Dall porpoise, Pacific white-sided dolphin, California sea lion, Stellar sea lion, harbor seals, elephant seals, sea otter or bald eagles. Marine diversity and beauty extends underwater as well, making Vancouver Island a scuba diving paradise. Clear waters provide excellent visibility, artificial reefs (created by sinking decommissioned navy ships) and a multitude of invertebrate life all help to make Vancouver Island North America's top diving destination.
Population and Transportation
<-- Where I left off (this is obviously going to be a work-in-progress, with all the links and research. Wow. Vancouver Island sure sounds like a great place to vacation, let along LIVE (no wonder it's so pricey)
Recreation and Vacation
Some Worthwhile Links
(1) Provincial Parks and Towns - Interactive Map - Pic a region, then hover over the map for links to parks and town information on Vancouver Island dot com.
(2) Vancouver Island Photo Gallery - Look at photos from various categories: Landscape, Nature, Recreation, Attractions, Wildlife, Fishing, Heritage, Towns, General and Events. It's easy to burn an hour, just looking at the diversity and beauty of the island.
(3) BC Airphoto Web Mapping - View Aerial Photos over British Columbia, with contours, roads and other mapping elements, using photos from 1963-2005. Very slick, but very server intensive (long time between page refreshes). Just click "start" and you're off. Select "layers", "imagery" (at the bottom) and check the box for images to show. (Best to find the area you want, THEN turn on the ortho-photos).